Molluscum contagiosum – symptoms, treatments and prevention

Children between the ages of 1 and 5 are most susceptible to the viral skin infection molluscum contagiosum. So what can you do if your child gets the infection?

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What is it?

Molluscum contagiosum (MC) is a viral skin infection caused by the molluscum contagiosum virus (MCV) and is highly infectious.

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MCV belongs to the family of poxviruses, which infect human skin cells.

Some people are resistant to the molluscum contagiosum virus so won’t become infected, even when in contact with someone who is infected. It’s not known why some people are resistant and some people aren’t.

What are the symptoms?

If your child has molluscum contagiosum they may have small lesions or abnormal patches on the skin that can be firm, raised and painless. The lesions usually appear in small clusters and spread widely across different parts of the body, including hands, arms, face and neck.

Some of the lesions have a tiny grey head in the centre and are pearly in appearance. This head may split, causing a thick yellowy-white substance to escape, which is highly infectious.

You and your child should avoid handling or squeezing the lesions, as this will speed up the spreading of the infection.

Each lesion will crust over in its own time and heal, up to approximately 12 weeks after it first appeared.

For about one in 10 cases, patches of eczema can develop around the lesions, according to the NHS.

How does molluscum contagiosum spread?

Molluscum contagiosum can be spread through close direct contact, such as touching the skin of someone who is infected. It’s common in schools because the sharing of contaminated objects, such as toys and clothes, can spread the virus easily.

Do you need to take your child to the doctor?

Yes. Your doctor will examine your child’s skin and ask about their symptoms. However, molluscum contagiosum usually clears without the need for treatment.

Should your child go to school?

Yes. It’s not necessary for your child to stay home from school with molluscum contagiosum and they can continue to swim, too.

However in order to stop the infection from spreading, keep the affected areas of your child covered with clothing where possible. Make sure your child doesn’t scratch the infected area because this will prolong the infection.

Wash all clothing, bedding and towels regularly at a high temperature to prevent the infection from spreading.

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What else may your child come into contact with during school?

Other infections such as tonsillitis, verrucas, chickenpox, impetigo, ringworm, threadworms, ear infections, diarrhoea and vomiting are also common for your child to catch during school.

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